the biological diversity contained within them provide a stream of goods and services,
the continued delivery of which remains essential to our economic prosperity and
other aspects of our welfare. Ecosystems services provide large scale benefits
at several levels (local, regional and global) and to different groups (individuals,
commercial firms and public bodies). Despite this, ecosystems services tend to
be significantly undervalued by society. Reasons for this include a lack of adequate
information and knowledge about ecosystem functions and the benefits they generate
for society, and because no formal market for ecosystems services exists, meaning
these services are not allocated a price that would give some indication of their
economic value to society.
A distinction can be made between
the value of goods which are used directly (e.g. timber, fish etc) and those services
which indirectly support human welfare (e.g. controlling soil erosion and preserving
water quality). Ecosystem goods and services are also valuable for reasons not
related to their use, for example in contributing to cultural and spiritual traditions.
There is evidence from studies in developed countries that populations are willing
to pay for conservation in countries they will never visit because they believe
biodiversity should exist for others now or in the future and for its own sake.
The Total Economic Value of a resource is the combination of these use and non-use
The main objective of this study is to showcase the
current evidence base for the benefits of ecosystem goods and services. In achieving
this objective, the focus has been on those goods and services about which there
is no readily available data from markets. The report also provides a framework
which links ecosystems to their goods and services and resulting benefits to society.
This framework can enable better decision-making for ecosystem use, by demonstrating
the full economic costs implicit in trade-offs between development and preservation
of ecosystems. The report focuses on ecosystems services in developing countries,
and particularly the interaction between poverty and the environment.
ecosystem goods and services play a vital role in supporting life at all levels,
it tends to be rural communities in developing countries who are most reliant
on these goods and services for survival. Many of the world’s poor live in or
near areas rich in biodiversity and are heavily dependent on the goods and services
they provide. It is therefore the poor who tend to bear the brunt of the impact
of ecosystem loss and degradation through conversion to alternative uses, pollution
and over-exploitation. It is they who have the most to gain from sustainable management.
Rural communities tend to be dependent on agriculture (often subsistence agriculture)
and as such, are exposed to risks from pest outbreaks, flood and water scarcity.
In addition, the rural poor are more likely to inhabit marginal, less agriculturally
productive land, where harvests are more vulnerable to deterioration in soil or
Income from harvesting wild products often
represents a significant source of income, being particularly important for households
close to the survival line. Studies have shown that this additional income provides
a safety net in periods of both predicted and unexpected shortfalls in other sources
of income. Harvesting ecosystem goods can also support current consumption, maintaining
the existing level of income and preventing a decline into further poverty. Natural
resources may also offer a route out of poverty, either by enabling households
to accumulate capital so as to move into other activities, or by intensification
and specialisation in existing activities. It is important to recognise, however,
that a balance must be struck between the sustainable exploitation of ecosystem
goods to support local communities and over-exploitation of these resources. Over-exploitation
may occur, despite resource users being aware of the value of ecosystems services,
either because of the need to meet immediate food shortages, or because they do
not own the property rights to the land.
Whilst the poor are
likely to suffer the most from the loss of ecosystem goods and services, they
are often least able to mitigate this risk. For example, the poor who are more
likely to live in areas exposed to flooding, also tend to lack the means to protect
themselves against the impact of these events (e.g. reinforced buildings) or to
recover from them quickly. Similarly, whilst farmers in developed countries are
able to purchase farm inputs such as pesticides and fertilisers to mitigate against
soil degradation, farmers in developing countries are less likely to have access
to the resources to enable them to do this. The viability of local agriculture
in developing countries is thus often reliant on ecosystems services to perform
these functions (e.g. wetlands as storm buffers or forests to control soil erosion).
The maintenance of ecosystem goods and services should therefore
not be seen as a luxury for poor communities in developing countries but vital
for their continued livelihoods. Demonstrating the value of these services is
a necessary first step to bringing about sustainable management of precious resources.
However, this alone is not the solution. The report points to a range of options
available to policy-makers to ‘capture’ value. For example, by creating markets
or payment systems for ecosystems services, providing information and technology
exchange, and creating and enforcing appropriate property right regimes.